Updates to Per Diem Rates

Back in August, the General Services Administration (a.k.a GSA) issued its annual update on federal maximum per diem rates. These new rates pertain to locations within the continental United States – otherwise known as CONUS. This includes the lower 48.

Before we go into detail on the new rates, let’s do a little refresher.

Per Diem: A Latin word that translates to per day, or for each day. In the case of this post, per diem is being discussed as the daily allowance employees are paid and reimbursed for when they travel for work. Common expenses covered under per diem rates include:

  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Tips
  • Ground Transportation
  • Wi-Fi Charges
  • Other incidental expenses, such as dry cleaning

Another simple way to put it: it is the amount of money an employee is able to spend, per day, on a business trip, attending conferences and events related to work and traveling to work away from the home office. Think of it as an allowance. However, it is important to note the per diem rate doesn’t include the cost of transportation to the site, such as flights or driving. Those costs are usually paid separately by the employers.

So, let’s get back to the main point: these rates are changing, and if you or your employees travel for work, it’s important to know them and stay in compliance!

The new FY18 rates apply to work travel on or after October 1, 2017. If the per diem allowance given to an employee is equal to or less than the federal rates, the allowance is excludable from income tax; those over the federal rates are subject to employment taxes.

Let’s take a look at what FY18 per diem rates have to offer.

The first takeaway to note is the CONUS meal and incidental expense (M&IE) rate hasn’t changed – it is staying at $51. The M&IE rates for non-standard areas – areas still within CONUS which have different rates for travel – will also stay the same. However, all locations in CONUS that don’t appear on the non-standard area list will have an increase in the lodging per diem rate. This has gone up from $91 to $93.

There are also some changes to the non-standard areas list. While no new locations were added, there were 14 locations removed for FY18. They include:

  • Redding, CA
  • Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Bonner’s Ferry/Sandpoint, ID
  • Dickinson/Beulah, ND
  • Watertown, NY
  • Youngstown, OH
  • Enid, OK
  • Mechanicsberg, PA
  • Scranton, PA
  • Laredo, TX
  • McAllen, TX
  • Pearsall, TX
  • San Angelo, TX
  • Gillette, WY

These removed locations are now considered part of the regular CONUS, and follow CONUS standard rates.

You might also be wondering about rates in places that aren’t part of the CONUS, such as Alaska, Hawaii or even Puerto Rico. If your employees are lucky enough to travel to Hawaii for work, it’s important to note these rates are not updated annually, but rather on an irregular basis.

The Department of State steps in and updates per diem rates for foreign travel, but also on an irregular schedule.

To find these rates, as well as the CONUS rates, be sure to check out the GSA website.

In the meantime, if you’re struggling to understand how much to reimburse your employees for their travels, reach out to us. We would be happy to help!

Welcome to the Company: Ideas for Successful Onboarding

Hiring new employees can be an exciting time – for both you and the new hire! After all, you found an awesome addition to your team, and you’re excited to show them how great your business is. Although having a new hire can be really fun, it can also be really stressful – especially for the new person.

You want to alleviate stress for your new hire by giving them a smooth transition into your business. So, how do you do that? Here are some ideas for giving your new hire a smooth start in your business.

  • Start with the small stuff: When your new hire starts, there are some seemingly small items that can actually help make the transition a little easier for them. Consider a small welcome gift they can use in the office, such as a water bottle or coffee mug. Also, make sure to show them where the bathrooms are, how to use the copy machine and what to do if they’re having computer problems, to name a few. Although these may seem small, these items can help your new hire feel comfortable in the new environment.
  • Use the buddy system: Consider pairing your new hire with an employee who’s been with the company for a while. The buddy can be the new hire’s go to person if they have questions and concerns about getting acclimated within the company. The buddy can also share some of their tips, tricks and experiences, which can ultimately help the new hire get a great understanding of the ins and outs of the business. Having a buddy can also help the new hire feel more comfortable simply because they know someone within the company and are not all alone.
  • Hands-on approach: What better way to learn than by doing? A great way to get your new hire involved and comfortable is to start them off by doing rather than by watching. Whether it be a computer program or making phone calls, involving them from the get-go can provide beneficial training. It also allows the new hire to ask questions in real time as they arise, rather than scrambling for an answer if an issue comes up. However, try not to give them too much hands-on training right away. You want to help them feel comfortable, not overwhelm them.

 

  • Team involvement: Right from the beginning, it’s important to involve the entire team your new hire will work with. Whether it be going out for lunch on the first day or just holding a brief introduction meeting, letting your new hire meet the people he or she will be working with the most gives a level of familiarity which can help lead to better productivity. When the team works well together, better results are often produced.

 

Gaining a new employee is a fun and exciting step for your business. To reduce stress for them (and you), and to give them a smooth transition, consider some of these ideas. When your employees work well together, you can watch your business thrive.

*Bonus: If you need help with new hire onboarding, let us know. Our outsourced HR services can help make sure your new hire has an easy transition.

The Stay Interview

When it comes to your employees, you likely conducted interviews on them when you first hired them. If you’ve had employees leave, maybe you’ve conducted exit interviews. But there’s another type of interview that often gets overlooked: the stay interview.

A stay interview? What’s that?

While exit interviews are conducted when an employee leaves to help management get a better understanding of what went wrong or why the employee left, stay interviews give management an idea of how they can help their employees stay with the company.

Stay interviews can help management gain a good understanding of what the company is doing right that makes employees want to stay, but it can also help determine what it is that would cause an employee to leave. This gives management a chance to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to work on improving those before it’s too late.

On top of that, stay interviews can help build stronger relationships within the company, which can ultimately lead to more trust throughout. When employees realize their thoughts and needs are being considered, they are often more likely to have positive attitudes and relationships. Following up on information learned in the interviews can help solidify this.

Stay interviews are also sometimes a better option than other ways to measure employee satisfaction, such as sending out surveys that often get buried in inboxes. Stay interviews provide a two way, face-to-face conversation that allows for questions and dialogue.

What questions should I be asking?

There are many questions you can ask during a stay interview, and often times, these questions depend on your business. If your employees do sales, you might want to ask them about a specific goal or initiative. If you’re in the world of technology, you may find value asking your employees how they feel about the software they’re currently using.

While a lot of stay interview questions can and should pertain to your specific business, there are also common questions that may be beneficial to conducting a worthwhile interview. Some common questions to consider asking include:

  • What keeps you coming back to work here every day?
  • What do you look forward to here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would it be and why?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • What do you want to see from upper level management/staff?
  • What might cause you to leave the company?
  • What can the company do more of for you?

What do I do next?

After you have conducted the interview, it’s helpful to do a quick run through of the employee’s answers to make sure you didn’t miss anything important. You may even notice a pattern of similar answers from different employees.

Once you have a good idea of what needs to change and improve, act on it! The purpose of the interview is to help you help your employees, and to improve employee retention based on the answers you hear.

Stay interviews can be a powerful tool to help you improve work-life for your employees, and to keep them around for years to come. When stay interviews and the information obtained in them are acted on properly, you’re more likely to retain your employees and avoid exit interviews.

Getting Your Business Back on Track

There are a lot of considerations that go into running a small business, especially one in the process of growing and improving, but it’s not always easy. In fact, often times it might feel like your business just won’t cooperate and you might feel like you’re losing control.

How do you get back on track and help your business live up to its potential? Here are six areas you as a business owner can focus on:

  • Sales – Sales figures can help you determine revenue and inventory purchases, so keeping accurate records is important. To do this, implement detailed policies and procedures for all types of sales, whether it be cash, checks, credit cards or online sales. Consider using an invoicing system when shipping goods and having proof of delivery when goods are shipped. Also be sure to check your invoices against sales and payments to ensure everything matches up correctly.
  • Accounts Receivable – We’ve mentioned this a lot: keeping up on accounts receivable is important. Income from your operations is what keeps your business going, so making sure you collect, and on time at that, is very important. To keep up on AR, establish collection policies in writing, and make sure to follow through on implementing these policies. Here are some ideas:
    • Establish a solid system for billing, such as numerical or batch processing
    • Have a timely review process for all accounts
    • Keep your accounts receivable separate from cash
    • Have security measures in place for communicating
  • Accounts Payable – Just like it’s good when your business receives cash, other businesses need to be paid as well. Keeping up on payments can help your business establish a trustworthy reputation which can ultimately lead to more success and growth. Unfortunately, AP is an area that many businesses struggle with. To stay out of hot water in this area, consider setting up procedures for cross checking payments, always check pricing options from competitors and vendors and be sure that billing amounts are being entered correctly.
  • Cash – Businesses that accept cash (especially a lot of cash) are at a high risk of loss due to theft or other discrepancies and errors. Keep your cash in control by having employees balance cash at the end of their shifts, have controls in place to ensure employees can’t pocket the cash without entering the transaction, check and reconcile bank balances regularly, keep all cash payment methods secure and pay attention to your business’s cash flows.
  • Human Resources and Payroll – Technology has made it easier for hackers, scammers and even bad-egg employees to commit fraud or other harm to your business. To keep your people (and your business) safe, consider the following:
    • Require password updates regularly- for you and your employees, and make sure to keep all passwords safe and not written down.
    • When it comes to payroll, review the details (do you know all those employees?) and checks/direct deposits to make sure pay is being disbursed properly.
    • Pay attention to any differences between payroll expenses and monthly budgets – this could be a red flag that someone or something has gotten access to your books.
  • Physical Assets – The physical assets your business owns, such as machinery or laptops, are of great value to your business – you don’t want anything happening to them. When it comes to laptops and other electronics, make sure they are safeguarded or locked up. This makes it difficult for someone to steal the physical piece itself, along with the information stored on it. Cyber security problems are on the rise (seriously, check this out), so keeping these assets on lock down can help prevent data breaches and other cyber-crimes. Record asset purchases and monitor use and depreciation on them to stay up to date on their value. Also consider setting a usage policy so assets aren’t falling into the wrong hands or being mishandled.

While there are many areas of your business that deserve your time and attention, these are some areas that can help you keep control over the growth and direction of your business. Your trusted business advisors can help you set goals and policies to ensure that everything is running smoothly in your business. If you need help, just ask!

 

 

 

Workplace Wellness

You may have heard about a trend that seems to be taking the nation by storm – corporate wellness programs. Corporate wellness programs involve offering certain types of health and wellness benefits and programs to employees, and these programs are rising in popularity.

Just how popular are these programs? A 2016 study by PwC showed that 76% of employers are offering wellness programs for their employees. 93% of small business decision makers even stated that the health of their employees is important to their bottom line (for more on this, check out this awesome survey). Some of the most common wellness initiatives offered by employers were physical activity programs and tobacco quitting programs.

Employers have many reasons for implementing these programs — from employee satisfaction and well-being (some job seekers actively seek companies offering these programs) to reduction of healthcare costs. However, in order to implement a successful program, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Make sure the program is accessible – with seemingly longer work days, remote workers and higher stress, employees might struggle to find time to access these programs. Strive to create programs that can be accessed in the workplace since that’s where workers spend most of their time. If you have remote employees, create programs that offer benefits where they are, such as discounted memberships at nearby gyms or online resources.
  • Creativity is key – Fitness is adored by some and disliked by others. To get your more stubborn employees on board, think outside the box when it comes to creating wellness programs. When you come up with unique and fun ideas, it can be cause for employees to get excited about getting involved and be intrigued for what will happen next.
  • All hands on deck – Implementing a wellness program is no easy task. To make your program successful, you need support from everyone involved. This includes the top level down to the staff. When more people are on board, it can help get the message out.

Wellness programs can be implemented in any business, no matter the size. While larger companies may have more resources to implement larger programs, small businesses can also implement awesome programs for their employees. Some neat ideas for small businesses include:

  • Freshen up vending machines – If your business offers vending machines, take a look at what’s in them. Rather than containing only cookies and potato chips, consider adding healthier options such as granola bars and fruit snacks. If you have soda machines, consider adding bottled juices and water. Not only will this add healthier options, but it can also give employees some variety to choose from.
  • Consider fitness trackers – If you’re not sure about being able to provide gym memberships, consider some type of fitness trackers. Fitbits can be a bit more expensive, but could function as a great employee gift. Pedometers are relatively cheap, and can encourage employees to get up and get some steps. You could also consider creating activity competitions using the trackers to keep it fun and exciting, and to keep people moving throughout the work week.
  • Implement something unique – Being a small business implementing a wellness program can have some cool benefits. If you have a small amount of employees, you might be able to try unique programs and activities that larger companies would struggle to implement. Bring in a masseuse and offer massages one Friday a month, or consider offering fitness classes at work. Coming up with fun and unique ideas can help keep your employees involved and excited to participate.

Once you’ve done what it takes to implement the program, you can rest easy knowing you’re helping improve your employees’ health and giving them some great work benefits. There are many benefits that can come from establishing a wellness program, no matter how small or complex it may be. Here are some of our favorites.

  • Liven up the workday – Let’s face it: sometimes the workday seems like it’s dragging on for ages. When you have a wellness program in place, you have the opportunity to split up the day and give employees a moment to step back from their work and get reenergized. For example, at Eide Bailly, our wellness committee has organized yoga sessions throughout the week around the lunch hour that employees are encouraged to attend right here in the office. This fun, get up and move activity helps break up the day and keeps employees on their toes.
  • Increased productivity – To piggyback off our last point, taking small breaks throughout the day can lead to employees being more awake and alert. This can lead to more focus on tasks throughout the day, and more energy for employees to complete their work.
  • This one is obvious: healthier, happier employees – Wellness programs are meant to maintain and improve your employees’ health. Wellness programs can help keep your employees from being susceptible to common illnesses, such as the cold or flu, which can result in them missing work. The programs can also help them fight off lasting health issues, such as heart disease and arthritis. When employees are healthy, they are likely to be in better spirits as well.
  • Attract – and keep – top talent – Employer sponsored wellness programs are so popular that job seekers often seek to work for companies that offer such programs. In fact, according to The Institute for Healthcare Consumerism, nearly nine out of 10 employees consider wellness benefits and programs when considering an employer. When employees find companies that offer these wellness benefits, they’re more likely to stick around.

Wellness programs are rising in popularity amongst employers and employees alike. With the benefits these programs can provide your company and your employees, have you decided if you’re ready to give it a try? Seem like a lot of work to implement? Don’t sweat it (see what we did there?) – our HR team can help you develop a program that works for your company!

Is it Time for a Promotion?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: one of the coolest parts about starting a business is that you get to hire awesome employees to work for you. These employees are (hopefully!) putting a large amount of dedication and effort into the work they’re doing for your business, and they’re really impressing you. You might even be considering whether or not they deserve a promotion.

Here are four signs it might be time to hand out that promotion.

    1. They go above and beyond | All businesses dream of them, some businesses actually have them – the employees who go above and beyond what is stated in their job descriptions. When you hired this employee, you went over what was expected of them in their position – what their duties were, who they reported to and the scope of their work. However, you might have gotten lucky and found someone who does what is expected and then some. Maybe it is picking up slack of others, taking on multiple projects at a time or even working extra hours to get things done – this employee is a potential candidate for a promotion.
    2. They have a proven success record | When you hire an employee, your hope is they will do their job well. What’s even better is when they prove just how well they are doing their job. Success can be measured in many different ways, often depending on the type of work being performed. For example, maybe this employee has brought in more new referral sources than anyone else, or has seeing the greatest return on investment from a marketing project he or she completed. Another measure of success can be key performance indicators, or KPIs. KPIs can help hold everyone accountable for their tasks, make sure everyone is on the same page and ultimately map out goals that your business wants to reach. How well the employee is meeting these KPIs can indicate whether they are promotion ready.
    3. They’ve been with you through it all | Starting and maintaining a business is no simple task. It involves the highs and lows, the risks and rewards. Having an employee who has stuck by your side through everything is a huge bonus. When times got tough, this employee didn’t turn and run. Rather, they stuck around and helped the business fight its way out of the dark period and thrive.
    4. They’re a walking, talking version of your business | Your employees should promote the values of your business. If your business values giving to charity and volunteer work, you want your employees to participate and be involved with these initiatives. If you want your business to be seen as respectable and trustworthy, you want your employees to act in a manner that promotes this idea and lets people know what kind of people fit in your organization. An employee who displays the values and characteristics of the business at all times is not only a good fit for your company, but also helps promote a positive image.

 

Once you have decided to promote an employee, there are a few things to consider. When someone gets a promotion, it often comes with a pay raise. You will need to be ready to discuss this new pay rate, as well as ensure you are able to actually pay them the promised amount. You also need to note if there will be any benefit changes, such as extra PTO or bonus eligibility.

Another item to keep in mind is how you will communicate this promotion. Will you alert the employee privately and then tell the whole staff, will you hold an event or will the promotion remain private between the business and the employee? Also, keep in mind that other employees may be upset with this decision if they feel they deserved a promotion but were not given one. These employees need to be addressed individually so they understand the reasoning behind your decisions.

Employees are great and there are often times they are so great they deserve to be recognized for it! Considering the tips above can help you decide when it is time to give your employees the promotion they deserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Team: Lisa Fitzgerald

Lisa.jpg

What is my role?

Here at Eide Bailly, I serve as the Director of Human Resources. I am also the Director of Human Resource Consulting. I am what they call a people person. In the consulting side of my job, I get to work with managers and small business owners to make sure they have sound people strategies in place to keep their business running smoothly. This can be anything from recruiting tactics to employee policy manuals to retention strategies. If you need HR help, I’ve got you covered.

Why are people important for business?

People are the heart and soul of any business, and are the core of success within the business. Without the right people, your business would suffer tremendously. You want happy employees so your business can also have happy customers.

Why do I want you to succeed?

I love watching businesses grow and become successful. It’s fun to follow the journey of a business from the beginning stages up to a more mature, established company. When businesses thrive it results in a healthy business ecosystem. When we have strong and thriving businesses, we all win!

#iLoveFargo

Okay… who doesn’t love Fargo? I’m convinced that Fargo is the greatest city on Earth. From all of the things to do, to all of the shops and restaurants, you never find yourself bored here. The people here are warm and friendly, and the small town feel in a big city atmosphere creates a strong sense of community. I love Fargo, and I plan to stay here for life!